The Fear of Being Different and How it Stifles Talent
An excellent article about diversity and inclusion by Kenji Yoshino and Christie Smith in the Harvard Business Review (March 2014) identifies strategies employees use to "blend in" at work. There are four and the authors claim it creates a workplace atmosphere that stunts their full participation. Consider the Fortune 500 CEOs: 23% are women, 6 African-American and none are openly gay. Why are there so few diversity gains at the top? Sociologists identified a phenomenon called "covering," in which employees downplay their differences. It is driven by several forces: (1) self-censorship, (2) internalized bias and (3) pressure from managers. These combined forces decrease employees' confidence and engagement.
Here are the 4 strategies employees employ to minimize their differences.
Appearance: Employees alter their attire, grooming, or mannerisms to make their identity less obvious. "I don't wear my hair in braids so I blend in with the majority at work."
Affiliation: Employees refrain from behavior associated with a given identity often to mitigate stereotypes or negative assumptions. "I have been careful not to say anything that might give my age away."
Advocacy Employees don't stick up for their identity group. "I am Chinese but I won't say anything when folks make comments or jokes about Asians."
Association Employees have limited contact with other members of their identity group. "When I have lunch in the company cafeteria, I sit with the men rather than other women."